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Ex-minister charged with rape

A former French minister and mayor with the ruling party has been charged with rape after accusations he sexually assaulted women working for him at city hall, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Georges Tron, formerly a junior civil service minister from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, is facing charges of rape and sexual assault by “a person in authority”, prosecutor Marie-Suzanne Le Queau said after he appeared before judges in a court in Evry, outside Paris.

Tron was released on bail. The crimes are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Tron, 53, was arrested on Monday following allegations that he sexually assaulted women who worked in the town hall in Draveil, south of Paris, where he is mayor.

Two women who worked with him at city hall filed complaints against Tron while a third, a former parliamentary aide, has appeared as a witness and also made accusations, but has not made a formal complaint.

His assistant for culture at the mayor’s office, Brigitte Gruel, was also charged with rape and sexual assault and given a conditional release.

Le Queau said Tron had denied having “any relations of a sexual nature with the victims, even relations that would have been consensual.”

She said, however, that statements from the two plaintiffs, aged 34 and 36, were “coherent” and “corroborated on some points by outside elements.”

Tron’s lawyer Olivier Schnerb said the conditions for his release include that he is not allowed to meet with any of his accusers.

He said Tron insisted on his innocence and is convinced he will be acquitted. Being charged, Schnerb said, “has never made anyone guilty”.

The two plaintiffs alleged that Tron forced them to let him give them foot massages, which turned into forced sexual encounters.

Tron’s resignation from the government on May 29 came amid a wave of soul-searching over sex and secrecy in public life after the French IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York on sex crime charges.

Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the global lender after his arrest.   

Tron alleged his political rivals were trying to gain momentum from the arrest of Strauss-Kahn.

FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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